With a lot of family and friends in the southwest part of the city, London is in some ways my second home. But in visits over the last few years, it was rare that I would stumble upon the sort of casual cool you find so easily in Brooklyn.
This was before I spent a Friday night in Shoreditch, and mingled at the Box Park pop-up mall before grabbing a table at Yalla Yalla. The second of three locations, this pop-up food court on Shoreditch High Street slings Beirut street food at prices that beat the great expense of eating and drinking in London. More importantly, it’s a cool scene, with indoor and outdoor communal picnic tables.This was London’s answer to Smorgasbug in Brooklyn and the food truck enclaves in Portland, and I loved it.
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Sophie Howarth’s East London
Name: Sophie Howarth Age: 34 Neighborhood: East London (aka the East End) Lived here since: 1999 Occupation: Founder and director of the School of Life, which she describes as “an apothecary for the mind.” The school offers courses in Love, Work, Play, Family, and Politics, as well as Sunday “sermons” on pessimism, punctuality, curiosity, and other topics delivered by the likes of writers Alain de Botton and Geoff Dyer.
I live just behind Columbia Road in East London, which, if you’re going to be glamorous about it, you call Shoreditch. I moved there because I loved the community and the simple domestic Victorian architecture. Now my brother, sister, and mum have all moved in within a few streets, so we have a real sense of family there. You can walk though my back garden to visit my sister’s back garden.
East London is full of contradiction—a source of tension and wonder. London’s financial center, the City, is possibly the richest square mile in the world; it butts up against a part of the East End that has a level of poverty we should be ashamed of today.
This was where waves of immigration came through in the 17th century. There are a lot of people here in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, as well as families that have been here for generations.
In a really good way, East London is in flux. This area is en route to where the Olympics are happening in 2012, so transport links are getting better, things are smartening up. The house that I live in was declared uninhabitable in the ’70s, but my street is one of the most coveted places now.
My house is mainly filled up with odd finds from the shops on Columbia Road. I always find funny old pictures that are out of fashion. It’s like art—though you’d hardly call it that now.
The East End is a great place to do street photography. It’s got such an eclectic mix of people and such a strong history of photography, like bits of Manhattan. But it’s the markets that really make East London. There are three fantastic markets within three minutes of where I live.
The great thing about London, having observed this through the years, is that areas that were previously decidedly dodgy, can in time, become edgy, interesting, creative hubs. This has happened with Hackney/Shoreditch, which previously housed only dodgy kebab shops and chicken takeouts, has some awesome coffee, shops, restaurants, bookshops and boutiques. all filled with cool, interesting people (both the patrons and the staff! :) so when you're done with generic Oxford Street or looking for something way fresher and exciting than Camden and aging punks posing for photographs, jump on the new Hackney line and get out at Hackney station and have a wonder and grab a coffee at one of the cool coffee shops, save in the knowledge that you're in the centre of Cool Brittania
On our Street Art Tour through the neighborhoods of London's East End, you'll see many works by Banksy, the most famous living street artist in the world, as well as street art by Ben Eine, whose piece "Twenty-First Century City" was recently presented by Prime Minister David Cameron to President Barack Obama.
You will also see works by Shepherd Fairey, the most celebrated street artist working in the US today, known around the world for his Obey and Hope campaigns.
You will discover how the huge growth and popularity of street art is reflected in the astonishing transformation of Spitalfields and Shoreditch from once seedy and deprived areas into one of the most vibrant, fashionable, and happening neighborhoods in London.
Photo of a work by Banksy in London's South Bank by Dominic Robinson, https://flic.kr/p/5k1YXK
A far cry from the old money pomp of Kensington and Chelsea in the West, London's East End has a rich cultural diversity and thriving street art scene that's worth a few hours to explore on foot.
To some merely graffiti, I am always blown away at the richness of detail to be found on seemingly random places, all of which makes for some unique photos! Armed with your camera (and some comfortable shoes), make your way to Shoreditch High Street tube station. From there, the main route I'd recommend to walk would be along Redchurch Street, onto the Bethnal Green Road, then head down the local epicentre that is Brick Lane - London's curry mecca. Much of the street art can be found on the small roads that transect Brick Lane, so go for a wonder and click away!
The top part of Brick Lane is also home to an eclectic mix of independent boutiques, vintage shops and cafes worth a visit. If there on a Sunday, check out the local markets at the Truman Brewery and Spitalfields which are nearby.
Whilst on foot grab a coffee from Nude Espresso on Hanbury Street and people watch the variety of characters drawn to the area. If sticking around, a cocktail at Lounge Lover on Whitby Street is in order to not only take advantage of their excellent happy hour offers, but to sit and wait as the street lights illuminate a vibrant after hours street scene.